Performance Slipping or Slowing Down?
You should not have to deal with pop ups, constant freezing, or slow performance just because your computer is four years old. Having a PC slow down over time is natural. Assuming you stay with stock parts, nothing will ever be exactly as good as it was coming from the factory. It's not true of cars and it isn't true of computers either. However, there are several very important steps you can take and tips you can follow to stay running fast and smooth.
Although most of these tips will be mostly applicable to users of Microsoft Windows operating systems, some of them will also apply to you if you have a Macintosh or a UNIX based OS. Speaking generally, Windows machines tend to get bogged down sooner and lose performance significantly sooner after purchase than these other types of computers. This doesn't mean you should be negligent though, everyone should try and take care of their PC as best they can.
Good Antivirus Protection
One of the most common reasons behind computers getting bogged down over the years is that users will come in contact with various forms of malware over the internet. If you are not doing anything shady or downloading many files, sometimes it cannot be prevented. You could open the wrong email, or click onto the wrong website, and have something automatically put onto your computer.
Therefore, one of the first things you want to do after setting your computer up is get yourself some form of antivirus protection. This doesn't take very long, and it will help keep you, your computer, and your personal information and data, safe. There are lots of antivirus companies to choose from, some paid and some free. It's up to you to decide if you want a paid subscription or not. While it isn't very expensive (usually around $50 a year) for many users it is unnecessary to pay for something like this while there are plenty of great free alternatives. If you are going to go the free route, Avast has been one of the best for years, and for good reason.
Whether or not you go free or paid, it's important to research the antivirus software before you make your final decision. This thing is going to be running in the background on your computer 24/7. Some anti-malware applications are actually known for hogging your PC's system resources, and seriously affecting performance. For years, Norton had a really bad reputation of this, although they have gotten better recently. Whatever you decide, look into what users are saying about the software's newest iteration, and how it will effect the performance of your computer. Do this all before you make up your mind, do any downloading, or go through any installation processes.
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Clean It Up
While it's true that good antivirus protection will prevent future problems from cropping up, if you have an older computer, the chances are that you've already got some files that are slowing you down.
Tools like the free CCleaner can really help you out here. With the click of a button, this freeware application will do a ton of routine Windows maintenance to clear up your PC. It will clear out old Windows log files, the recycle bin, and temporary files. In addition, it can clear your web browsers cookies and history, and do lots of other general cleanup actions for other software you may have installed. All of this can be done without installing anything, CCleaner is just nice because it will do it all with the click of one button. After all, remembering to click a button once a week is a lot easier to do than consistently going through a list of computer cleanup chores.
Another thing you should manually go through and do is uninstall unused programs and delete old files that you don't need anymore. Uninstalling software and clearing up more space will help the hard drive run faster and more smooth, particularly if it is jam packed and close to full. You also get the additional benefit of clearing up any start-up apps that launch with Windows, and make it take even longer to get yourself up and running every morning.
It's entirely up to you when it comes to deciding what software to keep installed and what to get rid of. But a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you don't need it for work or school, and you haven't used it in the past six months, get rid of. You can always get it back later should the need arise.
Re-Install Microsoft Windows
This is the best thing you can do to keep your computer running like new. It's for that reason that it is also the most time consuming item on this list to do.
Wiping your hard drive and re-installing Windows is not the type of thing you can do in an hour. You have to back up all of your important files, either to the cloud or have them moved to an external source. This takes time. Luckily, going through the Windows re-installation process isn't quite as bad and arduous as it once was, because most people already have so much stored in the cloud as opposed to locally. Furthermore, transfer times have decreased significantly with technology like USB 3.0.
After you wipe your hard drive and re-install Windows, it's almost like having a brand new computer. You have to go through the regular process of updates and getting connected to the internet for the first time. This is also a good time to consider what software you really need and is actually essential.
Obviously if you want to keep your computer running like new it is going to take a bit of work, but re-installing Windows really is the extent of it. This is the most extreme thing you can do. It may take a few hours to get back up and running, but if you can find the time to do this periodically, such as 1 time every year, you can make your computer last far longer than it otherwise would. If you had a professional put a brand new engine in your car every year, it would probably age a lot better than the rest of the people who disregard routine maintenance. Luckily, applying this kind of care to your computer is far easier, cheaper, and accessible, making it something everyone should try out.